Online shopping habits constantly evolve thanks to advancements in technology, such as AI recommendations and profiling, voice search or visual search. Yet, no matter how consumers are engaging with a brand, many look for a second opinion or reassurance before making a purchase. Leveraging the concept of social proof can help encourage shoppers to check out.

From harnessing product ratings and user-generated content, to pulling on the weight of a celebrity, there are a number of ways to leverage the phenomenon that people assume others’ actions reflect correct behaviour for a given situation.

In our recent study, we found a gap in what retailers are doing versus what shoppers actually want and identified a number of opportunities for brands to generate more sales. Here are some of the considerations that marketers need to bear in mind to harness social proof successfully.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Brands might not use social proof because they mistakenly believe it means expensive partnerships with celebrities or influencers. This may be one of the more familiar and headline-grabbing types of tactics, but by no means is it the only option available to marketers.

In fact, there are many other, more cost effective and scalable tactics that shoppers told us they expect when making a purchase. For example, 61% of consumers find a detailed product review useful and over half (56%) look to the product’s star ratings as part of their decision to buy. Incorporating this type of unbiased information into marketing content will help build trust with the customer and is adopted by 58% of retail websites.

User generated content and stock levels offer the biggest untapped potential. For example, leveraging real-time product data to share details on stock levels can help demonstrate both the popularity of an item and tug on the consumer’s fear of missing out. While almost half (43%) of consumers say they are influenced by product scarcity information when making a purchase decision, only 8% of surveyed retailers displayed stock levels in their web content. Similarly, one in three (29%) of shoppers like to see the product as it is worn or used by real people, but only 16% of retailers use UGC on their website.

Consider your customers’ preferences

The effectiveness of different social proof tactics relies on brands having a clear understanding of their customers and preferences. This is particularly true when it comes to generational differences.

For example, shoppers born after 1995 are more likely than older generations to be persuaded by celebrity and influencer marketing. 60% of Gen Z say they are more interested in a brand if there’s endorsement from well-known individuals that they like. On the other hand, just 14% of Baby Boomers are more interested in a brand using influencers.

However, brands looking for ways to resonate with younger generations shouldn’t necessarily throw all their resources into costly influencer campaigns. Marketing content that is championing fellow customers wearing or using the product is another key part of the decision-making purchase of younger generations. 41% of Millennials find UGC useful, compared with just 18% of the over 55s.

Don’t forget the power of email

Whilst brands are deploying a range of social proof tactics on the homepage and product pages, adoption in email campaigns still has a way to go. Scarcity messaging can work particularly well in email. Although the number of items that are still in stock are a key consideration for shoppers when making a purchase, none of the retailers surveyed used the tactic in their marketing messages.

Similarly, with a third of consumers finding UGC useful when considering a purchase, it is surprising that only 2% of the brands surveyed include this content in their email campaigns. Brands should also consider adding product star ratings or reviews to their cart or browse abandonment emails to help re-engage a customer and encourage them to reconsider their purchase. On average, retailers see a 39% sales uplift from the tactic which highlights the extent of the missed opportunity.

Adoption of social proof in email might be slow because marketers fear it would require lots of manual effort to assemble the email content. However, marketing platforms today offer a comprehensive set of tools to automatically pull real-time social proof content both into emails and web pages.

Shoppers are clearly looking for an additional layer of guidance when it comes to making a purchase, be that a product review, images from other customers or details on the popularity of an item. Social proof offers a variety of cost-effective ways to drive sales conversions, but the level of impact a tactic has will be dependent on the target customer. In leveraging cross-channel data and the right platform, marketers can implement and finetune the tactics that are going to be most effective at assuring shoppers that they are making the right purchase decision.

Mike Austin

Mike Austin


Mike Austin is the co-founder and CEO at Fresh Relevance.